Marketers have traditionally viewed B2B purchasing as a rational process, and as a result, we tend to believe that the key to creating persuasive content is to use logical arguments that are supported by credible and convincing evidence. We now know, however, that B2B buying behavior is not completely rational and that business buyers, like all humans, rely on non-rational mental shortcuts when making decisions.
Because B2B buying isn't totally rational, marketing content that relies only on logical arguments and credible evidence will not be as persuasive as content that also appeals to the intuitive aspects of human decision making.
Research from both psychology and behavioral economics has produced several insights that B2B marketers can use to improve the persuasiveness of marketing content. One of the most important concepts is cognitive fluency, which is the term scientists use to describe the ease with which our brains process information. It turns out that we humans have a strong affinity for things that are easy for us to think about. Psychologists say that cognitive fluency signals familiarity, and familiarity makes us feel comfortable.
Cognitive fluency shapes our thinking in many ways. For example, numerous experiments have shown that cognitive fluency:
- Makes us more inclined to believe a statement is true
- Causes us to believe that the author of a statement is more intelligent
- Makes us more confident in our judgment about the truth of a statement
There are two variations of the cognitive fluency "formula" that are important for marketers to understand.
Easy = Familiar = True
This is the most common expression of the cognitive fluency principle, and it states that if marketers want to make content persuasive, they must make it easy to process. There are several basic tactics that marketers can use to improve cognitive fluency.
- Use easy-to-read fonts and contrasting colors for text. (For an authoritative discussion of font "power," read this article.)
- Do not use complex language when simple language will suffice. We actually view the unnecessary use of pretentious language as a sign of poor intelligence and low credibility.
- Whenever possible, use images and simple diagrams to anchor and illustrate complex concepts.
Familiar = Easy = True
The second variation of the cognitive fluency formula is more subtle, but just as important for B2B marketers. It states that if marketers want to make content persuasive, they must make it familiar.
This dimension of cognitive fluency explains why it is important to create content with a specific buyer persona in mind. When I develop content for a specific buyer persona, I use terminology and examples that will be familiar to the target persona.
So, for example, when I write a white paper or an e-book "for" CFO's, I make liberal use of financial terms and financial concepts. Likewise, if I'm writing for a buyer in a particular industry, I'll use terminology and examples from that industry. These tactics will make the white paper or e-book "feel" more familiar to the target reader, which will make the information easier for the reader to process, which will cause the reader to be more likely to accept and believe my information.
Cognitive fluency is a powerful tool for improving the persuasiveness of marketing content. In a future post, I'll discuss how "framing" content can also improve persuasiveness.